Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XIV
Chapter XIV.—The Character of the Enemies of Religion.
1. Maxentius his son, who obtained the government at Rome, 2578 at first feigned our faith, in complaisance and flattery toward the Roman people. On this account he commanded his subjects to cease persecuting the Christians, pretending to religion that he might appear merciful and mild beyond his predecessors.
2. But he did not prove in his deeds to be such a person as was hoped, but ran into all wickedness and abstained from no impurity or licentiousness, committing adulteries and indulging in all kinds of corruption. For having separated wives from their lawful consorts, he abused them and sent them back most dishonorably to their husbands. And he not only practiced this against the obscure and unknown, but he insulted especially the most prominent and distinguished members of the Roman senate.
3. All his subjects, people and rulers, honored and obscure, were worn out by grievous oppression. Neither, although they kept quiet, and bore the bitter servitude, was there any relief from the murderous cruelty of the tyrant. Once, on a small pretense, he gave the people to be slaughtered by his guards; and a great multitude of the Roman populace were slain in the midst of the city, with the spears and arms, not of Scythians and barbarians, but of their own fellow-citizens.
4. It would be impossible to recount the number of senators who were put to death for the sake of their wealth; multitudes being slain on various pretenses.
5. To crown all his wickedness, the tyrant resorted to magic. And in his divinations he cut open pregnant women, and again inspected the bowels of newborn infants. He slaughtered lions, and performed various execrable acts to invoke demons and avert war. For his only hope was that, by these means, victory would be secured to him.
6. It is impossible to tell the ways in which this tyrant at Rome oppressed his subjects, so that they were reduced to such an extreme dearth of the necessities of life as has never been known, according to our contemporaries, either at Rome or elsewhere.
7. But Maximinus, the tyrant in the East, having secretly formed a friendly alliance with the Roman tyrant as with a brother in wickedness, sought to conceal it for a long time. But being at last detected, he suffered merited punishment. 2579
8. It was wonderful p. 337 how akin he was in wickedness to the tyrant at Rome, or rather how far he surpassed him in it. For the chief of sorcerers and magicians were honored by him with the highest rank. Becoming exceedingly timid and superstitious, he valued greatly the error of idols and demons. Indeed, without soothsayers and oracles he did not venture to move even a finger, 2580 so to speak.
9. Therefore he persecuted us more violently and incessantly than his predecessors. He ordered temples to be erected in every city, and the sacred groves which had been destroyed through lapse of time to be speedily restored. He appointed idol priests in every place and city; and he set over them in every province, as high priest, some political official who had especially distinguished himself in every kind of service, giving him a band of soldiers and a body-guard. And to all jugglers, as if they were pious and beloved of the gods, he granted governments and the greatest privileges.
10. From this time on he distressed and harassed, not one city or country, but all the provinces under his authority, by extreme exactions of gold and silver and goods, and most grievous prosecutions and various fines. He took away from the wealthy the property which they had inherited from their ancestors, and bestowed vast riches and large sums of money on the flatterers about him.
11. And he went to such an excess of folly and drunkenness that his mind was deranged and crazed in his carousals; and he gave commands when intoxicated of which he repented afterward when sober. He suffered no one to surpass him in debauchery and profligacy, but made himself an instructor in wickedness to those about him, both rulers and subjects. He urged on the army to live wantonly in every kind of revelry and intemperance, and encouraged the governors and generals to abuse their subjects with rapacity and covetousness, almost as if they were rulers with him.
12. Why need we relate the licentious, shameless deeds of the man, or enumerate the multitude with whom he committed adultery? For he could not pass through a city without continually corrupting women and ravishing virgins.
13. And in this he succeeded with all except the Christians. For as they despised death, they cared nothing for his power. For the men endured fire and sword and crucifixion and wild beasts and the depths of the sea, and cutting off of limbs, and burnings, and pricking and digging out of eyes, and mutilations of the entire body, and besides these, hunger and mines and bonds. In all they showed patience in behalf of religion rather than transfer to idols the reverence due to God.
14. And the women were not less manly than the men in behalf of the teaching of the Divine Word, as they endured conflicts with the men, and bore away equal prizes of virtue. And when they were dragged away for corrupt purposes, they surrendered their lives to death rather than their bodies to impurity. 2581
15. One only of those who were seized for adulterous purposes by the tyrant, a most distinguished and illustrious Christian woman in Alexandria, conquered the passionate and intemperate soul of Maximinus by most heroic firmness. Honorable on account of wealth and family and education, she esteemed all of these inferior to chastity. He urged her many times, but although she was ready to die, he could not put her to death, for his desire was stronger than his anger.
16. He therefore punished her with exile, and took away all her property. Many others, unable even to listen to the threats of violation from the heathen rulers, endured every form of tortures, and rackings, and deadly punishment.
These indeed should be admired. But far the most admirable was that woman at Rome, who was truly the most noble and modest of all, whom the tyrant Maxentius, fully resembling Maximinus in his actions, endeavored to abuse.
17. For when she learned that those who served the tyrant in such matters were at the house (she also was a Christian), and that her husband, although a prefect of Rome, would suffer them to take and lead her away, having requested a little time for adorning her body, she entered her chamber, and being alone, stabbed herself with a sword. Dying immediately, she left her corpse to those who had come for her. And by her deeds, more powerfully than by any words, she has shown to all men now and hereafter that the virtue which prevails among Christians is the only invincible and indestructible possession. 2582
18. Such was the career of wickedness which was carried forward at one and the same time by the two tyrants who held the East and the West. Who is there that would hesitate, after careful examination, to pronounce the persecution against us the cause of such evils? Especially since this extreme confusion of affairs did not cease until the Christians had obtained liberty.
See the previous chapter, note 21.
The character which Eusebius gives to Maxentius in this chapter is borne out by all our sources, both heathen and Christian, and seems not to be greatly overdrawn. It has been sometimes disputed whether he persecuted the Christians, but there is no ground to suppose that he did, though they, in common with all his subjects, had to suffer from his oppression, and therefore hated him as deeply as the others did. His failure to persecute the Christians as such, and his restoration to them of the rights which they had enjoyed before the beginning of the great persecution, can hardly be looked upon as a result of a love or respect for our religion. It was doubtless in part due to hostility to Galerius, but chiefly to political considerations. He apparently saw what Constantine later saw and profited by,—that it would be for his profit, and would tend to strengthen his government, to gain the friendship of that large body of his subjects which had been so violently handled under the reign of his father. And, no doubt, the universal toleration which he offered was one of the great sources of his strength at the beginning of his reign. Upon his final defeat by Constantine, and his death, see below, Bk. IX. chap. 9.336:2579
On the alliance of Maximinus with Maxentius, his war with Licinius, and his death, see below, Bk. IX. chaps. 9 and 10. Upon his accession to the Cæsarship, and usurpation of the title of Augustus, see above, chap. 13, notes 16 and 22.
Maximinus Daza was a nephew of Galerius, who owed his advancement, not to his own merits, but solely to the favor of his uncle, but who, nevertheless, after acquiring power, was by no means the tool Galerius had expected him to be. Eusebius seems not to have exaggerated his wickedness in the least. He was the most abandoned and vicious of the numerous rulers of the time, and was utterly without redeeming qualities, so far as we can ascertain. Under him the Christians suffered more severely than under any of his colleagues, and even after the toleration edict and death of Galerius (a.d. 311), he continued the persecution for more than a year. His territory comprised Egypt and Syria, and consequently the greater part of the martyrdoms recorded by Eusebius in his Martyrs of Palestine took place under him. (See that work, for the details.) Upon the so-called Fifth Edict, which was issued by him in 308, see Mart. Pal. chap. 9, note 1. Upon his treatment of the Christians after the death of Galerius, and upon his final toleration edict, see Bk. IX. chap. 2 sq. and chap. 9 sq.337:2580
Literally, “a finger-nail” (ὄνυχος).337:2581
Compare chap. 12, note 3, above.337:2582
Next: Chapter XV
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